I was recently asked to contribute a piece of writing for my friend Rob’s GI Festival project. I’ve been neglecting this blog for a while and thought it would be a good idea to post my contribution here, just to show I haven’t dropped off the face of the planet.
By way of an introduction to the piece I should give you a bit of background. Rob and I grew up together, sharing a passion for music. I’m a non-musician, so my creative frustrations have always been tempered by making mix tapes/CDs for friends and subsequently a tumblr blog.
Last year Rob and I were chatting about a multi-cassette compilation I put together when we were teenagers. I told him that I’d been putting together an equally ambitious compilation about space travel. Some months later he told me he’d been thinking about out conversation and wondered if I’d like to contribute a piece of writing for his art project, based around the themed compilation I’d mentioned. The end product is what you see below.
The Fantastic Voyage
SPACE (a journey through the inner and outer cosmos)
“Higher worlds that you uncover
Light the path you want to roam
You compare there and discover
You won’t need a shell of foam
Twice born gypsies care and keep
The nowhere of their former home
They slip inside this house as they pass by.
Slip inside this house as you pass by.”
– The 13th Floor Elevators
The “fantastic voyage” and the many forms it can take has fascinated me since I was a child. And the notion of alien frontiers and unfamiliar horizons, whether appearing in high fantasy realms, distant galaxies or the farthest recesses of the mind, is something I find intriguing to this day.
Suburbia and the humdrum of everyday life isn’t the ideal foundation for journeys into the unknown, at least on the scale of those in film and literature. It was through a variety of media that the hunger for a “fantastic voyage” was sated as I grew up. It was the rich and detailed landscapes conjured up by Tolkien, the vibrant space opera of the Star Wars universe, and the epic rites of passage played out in the console RPGs of Square and Enix, etc that quenched my thirst for journeys into the truly unknown.
Like many teenagers, music became a passion as I entered adolescence. And like the majority of teenagers the starting point was my parents’ LP collection. Theirs was chock full of the Beatles and the Stones, The Who, Dylan, Cream and all the other major artists of that era. It was these records that clicked with me most. They seemed vibrant and energetic. They gave me that rush that only music seems to be able to give.
My growing obsession with the music of the mid-late sixties, in particular psychedelia, meant that I became curious about other elements of the culture it was part of. I was fascinated by Dr Timothy Leary and his quasi-religious approach to the LSD phenomenon. I was particularly fascinated by his book, “The Psychedelic Experience”, and his theories on “set and setting”. It was this fascination with the idea of external influences on the “inner journey” that gave me the idea of producing a soundtrack for the journey into inner space, one that would represent the “trip” and aid the listener throughout its various stages.
It began as a ten volume set of tapes containing 60s psychedelia from both the US and UK. Unfortunately, my record collection was still in its embryonic stage and I only had enough music to cover nine of the ten volumes! Over the following years it has been an idea I’ve come back to again and again. As my record collection grew, the soundtrack to a journey through inner space became two separate series, each an attempt to give a comprehensive overview of both the North American and UK 60s psychedelic scenes respectively, that I could share with friends. Essentially they were audio documents rather than something that could be construed as having any narrative or structural theme other than genre, therefore the initial concept had been lost or at least diluted.
I then became obsessed with the “kosmische music” made by the German bands of the early to mid seventies. Julian Cope’s Krautrocksampler book helped kick-start a resurgence of interest in these artists, which meant that many once hopelessly obscure releases were getting reissued and becoming accessible. At the same time, in a fortunate instance of synergy, one of my friends began introducing me to more contemporary sounds that shared broadly the same ethos as the cosmic German bands I was discovering. Many of the albums I was being exposed to had overtly interstellar themes or made allusions to space travel. This in turn helped me rediscover my love for sci-fi literature and before long the themes of cosmic exploration and alien worlds naturally brought me back to the notion of the “fantastic voyage”.
With this in mind I decided that it would be an interesting idea to create a new soundtrack, this time charting a journey to distant galaxies and alien worlds. The music I was now listening to was perfect for the project. Rather than being concerned with song structure or regular notions of melody, the music seemed to be more about textures of sound and the conveyance of a mood or tone to the listener. To me these miasmic works were vivid exercises in aural expressionism, perfect for representing otherworldly realms and celestial vistas. The end result is SPACE, a ten and half hour journey to the farthest reaches of the outer and inner cosmos, the details of which are set out below.
I chose the title SPACE as I felt that the name needed to be ambiguous, one that could have dual meaning. When imagining the trials and tribulations of a “fantastic voyage” into outer space, there are some obvious comparisons to be made with the “fantastic voyage” into inner space. Both are journeys into the unknown, to places that can fill you with both wonder and terror; journeys that require great mental strength from both the traveller and the other members of his or her caravan. As such the title SPACE allows the music to be imagined as both the soundtrack to a trip to the stars and to a “trip” in the lysergic sense of the word.
Each disc contains five to nine pieces of music that appear on each CD as one single track. I was keen for the experience to not simply be a sequence of a number of musical pieces easily identifiable by track markers. The experience is intended to be enjoyed as a whole, not simply on a track by track basis. Furthermore, I feel that an uninterruptable progression from start to finish is more sympathetic to the concept of a journey, e.g. when travelling to the moon, one does not have the ability to skip to the lunar landing. One must endure all that comes before that point, whether it be enjoyable or otherwise.
Using Audacity, I blended each track into the next to represent the organic transition between each stage of the journey. Earlier I mentioned music as texture. With this in mind some of the transitions are jarring, thus representing sudden changes in landscape or atmospheric pressure, whilst others are a lot smoother in nature in an attempt to evoke, for example, a landscape of verdant foliage giving way gradually to sandy oceans.
The music on each volume is preceded by a short audio clip taken from the NASA archives. These have been manipulated to make them more relevant to the dual theme of the inner journey. For as raw samples they simply serve to add a “space” flavour to the proceedings. By adding echo and phasing they reference the techniques used by vintage acid bands to convey the LSD experience.
The music I’ve used comes from various eras, countries and genres. The oldest track featured is the live version of Careful With That Axe, Eugene by Pink Floyd. This dates back to 1969 and is a track I first came across when leafing through my parents’ record collection. In contrast the most recent is 2012’s Elegie für Clemens Scheitz by Brennendes Gehirn, the nom de plume of the friend whom I mentioned having great influence on the inception of this project. These tracks in particular are worthy of mention as they are representative of the autobiographical element to this project – see Footnote. Elsewhere the music takes the listener through tranquil, celestial gardens (e.g. Comet III, Arp) and up to breezy cosmic summits (e.g. Daughters of the Sun, Date Palms). In contrast it also dives into suffocating chasms (e.g. Skullflower, Family Underground) and crawls uneasily across unwelcoming alien panoramas (e.g. Marble Sheep & the Run Down Sun’s Children, Moon Unit). Each track has been chosen to paint an aural picture of a variety of cosmic landscapes, which are in turn metaphors for the roller coaster ride of the voyage through inner space.
In conclusion, I would like to think of SPACE as a work in progress. Like the best cosmic music it should be seen as an excerpt from a much vaster opus, as something without a beginning or an end. It will be a project that will be added to (and revised no doubt) over years to come. It is exciting to imagine what form this project will take twenty or thirty years from now. Exciting because only time will tell what future sounds and musical influences will change the journey soundtracked by this project. Exciting also because only the future knows of on what format this project will be presented. It currently exists as eight CDrs, but who knows what technological advancements will influence how SPACE is presented? In the near future I would like to experiment with other formats that are available today. I mentioned earlier that I wanted each volume to be consumed wholly, rather than on a track by track basis. I do not see why that should not be true of the whole project. As such, I envisage putting the entire project onto a USB pen or even an external hard-drive. Whatever the final form the project takes it will be a fascinating journey getting there, a “fantastic voyage” even…
Sic itur ad astra.
Footnote: After finishing putting together the eight discs that comprise this soundtrack I realised that I’d forgotten another “fantastic voyage” worthy of note. Looking at the tracks on each CD I realised that some had been familiar to me for many years, whilst some were relatively new discoveries. I reminisced on where I had first heard them and how I’d come across them. It was then that it dawned on me how the enjoyment of music and the discovery of new music are themselves “fantastic voyages”. That’s why I think it’s important to always seek out new music and not be afraid to try something a little bit different. You never know where it might take you and what each new horizon may bring.
SPACE (a journey through the inner and outer cosmos)
Total Running time: 10:28:30
Volume One: The Stars My Destination
Running time: 79:52
- “Launch” (NASA archives)
- Rings of Saturn – Älgarnas Trädgård: from Framtiden är ett svävande skepp, förankrat i forntiden (Silence, LP 1972)
- Lunar Sunrise – Magdalena Solis: from Hesperia (Dying for Bad Music, LP 2011)
- Careful With That Axe Eugene (live) – Pink Floyd: from Ummagumma (Harvest, LP 1969)
- Ancestral Star – Barn Owl: from Ancestral Star (Thrill Jockey, LP 2010)
- Summoning Recapitulation Upon the Pyramid Temple – Expo ’70: from Death Voyage (Dead Pilot Records, LP 2010)
- Astral Voyager – Comet III: from Astral Voyager (Fire Museum Records, LP 2007)
- Parallel World – Far East Family Band: from Parallel World (Nippon Columbia, LP 1976)
Volume Two: The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
Running time: 79:38
- “Apollo VIII” (NASA Archives)
- Lunar Mansions – The Alps: from A Path Through the Sun (Root Strata, CDr 2008)
- Blue Star – F/i: from Blue Star (RRRecords, LP 1990)
- Gammastrahlen-Lamm – Deuter: from D (Kuckuck,LP, 1971)
- Den Barbariska Söndagen – Anna Själv Tredje: from Tussilago Fanfara (Silence, LP 1977)
- Galactic Supermarket III – The Cosmic Jokers: from Galactic Supermarket (Kosmische Musik, LP 1974)
- La Nòvia – Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.: from La Nòvia (Swordfish Records, CD 2001)
Volume Three: They Shall Have Stars
Running time: 78:10
- “The Eagle Has Landed” (NASA Archives)
- My Girl Soars Blind – White Hills: from A Little Bliss Forever (Drug Space Records, LP 2008)
- Chamsin Soundtrack – Amon Düül II: from Tanz Der Lemmige (Liberty, LP 1971)
- Between 6:20 and 6:46 PM – Taj Mahal Travellers: from July 15, 1972 (CBS, LP 1972)
- Lost in the Blackened Gardens of Some Vast Star – Skullflower: from Tribulation (Crucial Blast, CD 2006)
- Elegie für Clemens Scheitz – Brennendes Gehirn: from Epidemics of the Modern Age (Ordo Pestilentia, CD 2012)
- Black Sun – Demdike Stare: from Voices of Dust (Modern Love, LP 2010)
- Ashes and Ghosts – Akira Yamaoka: from Silent Hill 2 OST (Konami Music Entertainment, CD 2001)
- Zeit – Tangerine Dream: from Zeit (Ohr, LP 1972)
Volume Four: The Mote In God’s Eye
Running time: 77:29
- “Orange Soil” (NASA Archives)
- Burkelbos – Sylvester Anfang II: from Sylvester Anfang II (Aurora Borealis, LP 2009)
- Untitled – Daughters of the Sun: from Ancient of the Ancients (Moon Glyph, Cassette 2009)
- Darkness: Flowers Must Die – Ash Ra Tempel: from Schwingungen (Ohr, LP 1972)
- The Sooty Stink of Saturn – Dukkha: from Be My Second (Frequency Thirteen, split-LP 2006)
- Vuh – Popol Vuh: from In Den Gärten Pharaos (Pilz, LP 1971)
- Glowing Sky – Evan Caminiti: from West Winds (Three Lobed Recordings, LP 2010)
- Distant Star (for Pete Swanson) – Jefre Cantu-Ledesma: from Shining Skull Breath (Students of Decay, CDr 2007)
- Bring Me Sand – Hills: from Master Sleeps (Intergalactic Tactics Records, LP 2011)
Volume Five: To Your Scattered Bodies Go
Running time: 79:50
- “Lunar Landing” (NASA Archives)
- Silence – Dom: from Edge of Time (Melocord, LP 1971)
- Black Star – Family Underground: from Black Hole (Secret Eye Records, CDr 2006)
- Valley of Dry Bones – ARC: from Arkhangelelsk (Epidemie Records, CD 2008)
- Space Earth Calling (live) – Marble Sheep & the Run Down Sun’s Children: from Old From New Heads (Captain Trip Records, CD 1993)
- Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Two Mixed Choirs & Orchestra – Györgi Ligeti: from 2001: A Space Odyssey OST (MGM, LP 1968)
- March of the Cicadas [Live On KZSU 12-15-10] – Carlton Melton: from Country Ways (Agitated Records, CD 2011)
- UFO – Guru Guru: from UFO (Ohr, LP 1970)
- Fire – Flower-Corsano Duo: from The Radiant Mirror (Textile Records, LP 2007)
Volume 6: Beyond Lies The Wub
Running time: 79:43
- “E-Ticket” (NASA Archive)
- Odyssey (For Bas Jan Ader) – Arp: from In Light (Smalltown Supersound, CD 2007)
- Untitled #1 – Cluster: from Cluster (Philips, LP 1971)
- Tea Breaks Are Under Attack From 2300000 Light Years (part 1) – Andromelos: from Andromelos (Ektro Records, CD 2006)
- Sigqan Part 3 – Troum: from Sigqan (Desolation House, CD 2003)
Volume 7: Startide Rising
Running time: 78:56
- “Cardiac Sim” (NASA Archive)
- Chalk Rock – Ash Tray Navigations: from The Beak Stuck Out of the Snow (Memoirs Of An Aesthete, CD 2010)
- Espacios – Aeolian String Ensemble: from Eclipse (Robot Records, CD 2004)
- Countdown/Phoenix Rising – Code III: from Planet of Man (Delta-Acustic, LP 1974)
- Honey Devash – Date Palms: from Honey Devash (Mexican Summer, LP 2011)
- Untitled Improvisation #1 – Toshi Ichiyanagi, Michael Ranta & Takehisha Kosugi: from Improvisation Sep. 1975 (?, LP 1975)
- Der Wagen – Walter Wegmüller: from Tarot (Kosmische Musik, LP 1973)
Volume 8: Brave New World
Running time: 74:52
- “Moon Speech” (NASA Archives)
- Earth Collision – Moon Unit: from Hell Horse And Heady Stratus (Blackest Rainbow, LP 2010)
- Space Clothes – Wooden Shjips: from Shrinking Moon For You (self-released, 10” 2006)
- The Crystal Pagoda – Gnod: from The Crystal Pagoda (Sonic Meditations, CDr 2009)
- Emerald Forest of Peace – Eternal Tapestry: from Mystic Induction (Solar Commune, CDr 2007)
- Für Elise – GAM: from GAM 1976 (?, LP 1976)
- Nur noch zwei Lichtjahre – Virus: from Revelation (BASF, LP 1971)
- Feel Like Goin’ Home – Spiritualized Electric Mainline: from Pure Phase (Dedicated, CD 1995)